Last Updated 11 September 2020

Islam is the official state religion of Yemen and the Constitution states that Islamic law is the source of all legislation.1 Freedoms of religion, speech and the press are all severely restricted.

Yemen has been devastated since March 2015 in a war between Houthi separatist rebels who took control of territory in the north, and eventually the capital of Sana’a, against government forces backed by a Saudi-led multinational coalition.2 The Saudi-led coalition of predominantly Sunni Arab states, with logistical and intelligence support from the UK, USA and France, considers that the Houthi rebels are supported by the Shia power Iran, and therefore the conflict may be considered a proxy war.3 than 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2014.4 A significant majority of fatalities appear to be civilians killed in airstrikes by the Saudi-led multi-national coalition.

The conflict and blockade have left the majority of the population in need and dependent on aid. In June 2020, United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres reported that four out of five in Yemen are in need of lifesaving aid, which amounts to 24 million people.5 The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the humanitarian situation further.

Yemen is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS), as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

The Constitution of the Republic of Yemen declares that Islam is the state religion and that Islamic law is the source of all legislation (Articles 1-3). The local interpretation of Islamic law serves as a basis for all law, although Islamic jurisprudence coexists with secular common law and civil code models in a hybrid legal system.6

Yemen imposes substantial restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. The Constitution does not specifically protect religious freedom, and other laws and policies restrict it. The Constitution states that defending religion is a sacred duty (Article 60), and to be eligible to stand for political office, individuals must fulfil their religious duties (Article 64(2)(d) and Article 107(d)).7

A non-Muslim can run for parliament, although the Constitution restricts candidates for president to those who practice their “Islamic duties.” The law does not prohibit a political party based on religion, but states that a party cannot claim to be the sole representative of a religion, to be against Islam, or to restrict its membership to a particular religious group.8

The Parliament is currently “expired,” as its six-year term has ended and authority remains split among the internationally recognized Yemeni government, the Houthis, and other forces.9

Article 27 of the Constitution states:

The state shall guarantee freedom of scientific research and achievements in the fields of literature, arts and culture, which conform with the spirit and objectives of the Constitution. The state shall provide means conducive to such achievements and shall provide support and encouragement for scientific and technical invention, and artistic creation and shall protect achievements thereof.

The government prohibits proselytizing directed at Muslims.10


Education and children’s rights

Primary education is compulsory between the ages of 6-14, however the armed conflict has had a detrimental effect on schools and disproportionately affected girls’ access to education.11

It is prescribed by law that primary school students learn about Islamic rituals and history and culture within the context of Islamic civilization.12 Shia and Sunni Muslims are taught the same curriculum, but there are reports that schools in Houthi controlled areas are teaching Zaydi principles.13

There are no reports on the content of the religious curriculum that is being taught at private schools in Yemen.14

Despite the fact that Yemen is a State Party15 to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,16 which defines “children” as any human being under the age of 18, the minimum legal age for marriage is 15 according to the Personal Status Law (1992).17 A revised Constitution, tabled during the National Dialogue Conference, would have outlawed child-marriage; however the draft was ultimately rejected.18

Family, community and society

Article 26 of the Constitution states that:

“The Family is the basis of society, its pillars are religion, customs and love of the homeland. The law shall maintain the integrity of the family and strengthen its ties.”

Discrimination against women and minorities

In 2018, the Equal Rights Trust found that “the weak legislative framework for protection of the right to non-discrimination is matched by poor enforcement.”19

It is estimated that over 99% of the Yemeni population are Muslims.20 Other religious minorities’ rights have reportedly been respected in the past.21 As the de facto authority in Sana’a and northern regions, the Houthi rebels have persecuted the Baha’i community and Christians in the controlled areas. The small Jewish community also face discrimination by the Houthis.22;

There are no reports of the treatment of non-religious people in Yemen.

There exists local customs that have been codified in various laws and policies, which discriminate against women and persons of non-Muslim religious groups. For instance, a woman’s testimony in court is equivalent to half that of a man, and women must obtain permission from the spouse or father to receive a passport and travel.23

The Constitution implies a difference in legal status between men and women, by considering them to be the “sisters of men”. Article 31 of the Constitution stipulates that the rights and duties of women “are guaranteed and assigned by Shari’ah and stipulated by law.” As such, women are subject to a guardianship system.24

According to Human Rights Watch:

Prior to the conflict, women faced discriminatory laws that increased the vulnerability of females to violence, but during the current conflict, warring parties’ actions have led to the displacement of women and girls in large numbers, and exacerbated discrimination and violence against them.”25

Of particular concern is the Personal Status Law (1992),26 which includes provisions requiring women be “obedient” to their husbands; requiring women to obtain their husbands’ permission to seek employment; requiring women to obtain their husbands’ permission in order to leave the house except in a narrow set of circumstances; and obliging women to have sexual relations with their husbands whenever they so desire.

Article 232 of the Penal Code,27 provides lenient sentences to a man who murders or injures his wife, mother, daughter, or sister or her partner after finding them in the act of committing adultery. In addition, where a family member has killed a female relative in the name of “honor,” he can be pardoned by his family.28

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in some governates of Yemen, where the figures can be as high as 84 percent of women and girls who are cut, according to Human Rights Watch.29

Same-sex sexual activities are illegal, and the penalties include lashes, imprisonment and death.30; Under Yemeni law, marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, as such, same-sex marriage is outlawed. Further, social stigma surrounding homosexuality is reported to be high, with individuals having to conceal their sexual orientation or face threat of violence.31

Family Law

Family law prohibits marriage between a Muslim and an apostate; by law, apostates have no parental or child-custody rights.32

Some laws, also based on custom, enforce significant interreligious discrimination. By law, Muslim women may not marry non-Muslims; Muslim men may not marry women who are not Muslim, Jewish, or Christian, or who have renounced Islam.33

Although these restrictions are enshrined in law and upheld in practice, the government does not in fact maintain records of an individual’s religious identity. Religious groups do not need to register with the state.34

De facto ban on non-religious NGOs

Under the Law on Organizations and Civil Society, all organizations must adhere to Yemeni law, which includes Shariah law. As such, while it does not explicitly ban the formation of humanist and/or non-religious non-governmental organizations, it can be viewed as a de facto ban as registration of an organization that does not adhere to Shariah law is not possible.

Further, Article 132 of the law, which concerns international cooperation between Yemeni and foreign organization, states that the international organization must respect shariah law and Yemeni laws.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The government does not respect freedoms of expression and the press. Article 103 of the Press and Publications Law bans materials which “prejudices the Islamic faith”, call on people to apostasies, criticise of the head of state and outlaws published material that “might spread a spirit of dissent and division among the people” or that “leads to the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni Revolution” or that “[distorts] the image of the Yemeni, Arab, or Islamic heritage.”35

Freedom of expression is also severely limited in the north of the country as the de facto Houthi authorities surveil the society and armed groups intimidate people into self-censorship.36

Freedom of the press

The conflict that has ravaged the country since 2014 has had a heavy toll on press freedom. The various parties to the conflict control the media, making neutral reporting rare. There are reports of arbitrary arrests of journalists and abusive treatment by militias.37 In April 2020, four journalists were sentenced to death for “broadcasting rumours, fake news and statements in support of the enemy Saudi Arabia”, among other charges.38 The UN reported in August 2020 that human rights violations and abuse against journalists are carried out by all parties to the armed conflict.39

Access to the internet is not widespread, and the the Houthi authorities have blocked online access to certain media outlets, online messaging and social media platforms.40;



The “blasphemy” laws prohibit “ridicule” of religion.

Article 194 of the Penal Code41 states:

“It is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding 3 years, and a fine, whoever:

1. Publicly broadcasts [or communicates] views including ridicule and contempt of religion, in its beliefs, practices, or teachings.

2. Whoever publicly incites contempt for people or communities, thus disturbing public peace.”

Article 195 states that the punishment for this crime must be imprisonment up to five years or a fine if Islam is the religion subject of “ridicule”.42

Article 260 prescribes five years’ imprisonment or a fine to anyone who “deliberately distorts the Noble Qur’an in a way that changes its meaning with the intent to offend the true religion”.


The act of “apostasy” is punishable by death.43 Under Yemeni law, “apostasy is considered to be pronounced words or deeds that are inconsistent with the rules and principles of Islam intentionally or with insistence” (Article 259). Those charged with “apostasy” are given three chances to repent, and if they chose to do, they are absolved from the death penalty.44 “denouncing Islam” or any blasphemy conviction may constitute evidence of “apostasy”.

On 15 September 2018, criminal proceedings were initiated against 24 individuals, mostly from the Baha’i minority. The charges include apostasy, the teaching of the Baha’i faith, and espionage.45 Both “apostasy” and espionage are capital offenses in Yemen. The defendants were not investigated nor were they informed by the prosecution of the pending charges against them prior to the start of the trial. As of June 2020, five of the 24 individuals remain in prison.46

Persecution of politicians and activists

In March 2020, a Houthi court in Sana’a sentenced 35 Yemeni parliamentarians to death, in absentia, on charges of treason. The pro-government parliamentarians were charged and sentenced for participating in a parliamentary meeting in 2019, which was called by the internationally recognized President Hadi.47 The UN has called on the de facto Houthi authorities to quash the politically motivated sentences.48

Yemen executed at least 7 people in 2019, which was an increase from the year before where at least four were executed. Amnesty International reported that in 2019, at least 55 death sentences were handed down, where 38 of the individuals were convicted for spying. The sentences were handed down to journalists, political opponents and activists, among others. Almost all of the death sentences except one was handed down by the Houthi-run criminal courts.49

Highlighted cases

Mohammed Atboush, a medical student living in the port-city of Aden, reportedly survived an assassination attempt in January 2017, which is suspected to be linked to a widely-known book he wrote criticising Qur’anic pseudo-science. The son of a judge, Atboush also takes an interest in philosophy, and his book, Critique of Scientific Inimitability, was published February 2016 by Masarat Publishing & Distribution in Kuwait. The book critically examines claims that the Qur’an contains references to modern science. Atboush told that on 29 December 2016 he was shot at outside his own family home. The shots missed. The masked assailant fired twice before getting back into his car which then drove

Omar Mohammad Bataweel was abducted and murdered in April 2016, having been accused of being an atheist over a number of social media posts. His body was found the day after his abduction from the Crater district of Aden. He had been shot dead. Bataweel had been accused of being an atheist after making Facebook posts deemed by others to be “critical of Islam”. Bataweel had reportedly received death threats from extremists responding to the posts. Yemeni Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman (journalist, activist and politician) commented on the killing, blaming extremist vigilantes, and saying it was a result of “takfiri ideology”. She called on the authorities to bring the killers to

On 14 May 2017, Amgad Abdulrahman, a 22-year-old law student and member of a cultural club set up by secularists, that would discuss taboo subjects such as religion, women’s rights and literature, was shot three times at an internet cafe in Aden. Although no one took responsibility for the killing, friends of the victim suspect that Abdulrahman was shot by Islamist Militants who are waging a campaign of persecution against secularists.

Soldiers from a local security force comprising Salafist Islamists, refused to let his family bury his body in the city cemetery as “he was not a Muslim”. In December 2016, Abdulrahman had been detained at a military base for being an atheist but was freed days



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